Part 3 out of 4
coming in, accused her that she keept table to poets, of which she
wrott a letter to him (Jonson), which he answered. My lord intercepted
the letter, but never chalenged him.' 
From the same source which makes this statement we take the following
trait in Jonson's character, which is as little calculated as his
passionate quarrelsomeness to endear him to us. Sir Thomas Overbury
had become enamoured of unhappy Lady Rutland. Jonson was asked by this
nobleman, who at the same time was a poet, to read to the adored one
a lyrical effusion of his; evidently for the purpose of fomenting her
inclinations towards the friend who was languishing for her. Ben Jonson
relates that he fulfilled Overbury's wish 'with excellent grace,' at the
same time praising the author. Next morning he fell out with Overbury,
who would have him to make an unlawful proposal to Lady Rutland.
But how, we may ask, was it possible that Jonson's noble friend could at
all think of trying to use him as a go-between in this shameful manner?
Are we not reminded here of the position of thirsty Toby Belch towards
the simple Aguecheek, if not even of honest  Iago in his dealings
with the liberal Rodrigo? Neither in Olivia's uncle, nor in Othello's
Ancient is it reckoned a merit to have omitted doing pimp service to
friends. Their policy of taking advantage of amorous inclinations,
although they did not even try to promote them by the reading of
poetical productions, remains not the less contemptible.
As to Jonson's passion for the cup that does more than cheer, neither
he himself conceals it, nor is evidence to the same effect wanting
on the part of his contemporaries. Drayton says that he was in the
habit of 'wearing a loose coachman's coat, frequenting the Mermaid
Tavern, where he drank seas of Canary; then reeling home to bed, and,
after a profuse perspiration, arising to his dramatic studies.' 
At a certain time, Jonson accompanied a son of Sir Walter Raleigh as
tutor during a voyage to France. The young hopeful pupil, 'being
knavishly inclined,' and not less quick in the execution of practical
jokes than in spying out human weaknesses, had no difficulty in
understanding his tutor's bent, and succeeded in making Jonson 'dead
drunk.' He then 'laid him on a carr, which he made to be drawen by
pioners through the streets, at every corner showing his governour
stretched out, and telling them, that was a more lively image of
the Crucifix than any they had.' The mother of young Raleigh greatly
relished this sport. It reminded her of similar tricks her husband had
been addicted to in his boyish days, 'though the father abhorred it.'
With habits of the kind described, Jonson had a hard but fruitless
struggle against oppressing poverty and downright misery during his
whole life. When age was approaching, he addressed himself to his
highborn patrons with petitions in well-set style. His needy condition
was, however, little bettered, even when Charles I., in 1630, conferred
upon him, seven years before his death, an annual pension of 100
pounds, with a terse of Spanish wine yearly out of his Majesty's
store at Whitehall.
A letter of Sir Thomas Hawkins describes one of the last circumstances
of Jonson's life. At 'a solemn supper given by the poet, when good
company, excellent cheer, choice wine, and jovial welcome had opened
his heart and loosened his tongue, he began to raise himself at the
expense of others.'
Wine, joviality, good company, and bitter satire--these were the elements
of Ben Jonson's happiness.
'O rare Ben Jonson!' Sir John Young,  who, walking through
Westminster Abbey, saw the bare stone on the poet's grave, gave
one of the workmen eighteenpence to cut the words in question, and
posterity is still in doubt whether the word 'rare' was meant for
the valuable qualities of the poet or for those of the boon-companion.
We will give a short abstract of Jonson's character from the notes of a
contemporary whose guest he had been during fully a month in 1619. One
might doubt the sincerity of this judgment if Sir William Drummond, his
liberal host, had made it public for the purpose of harming Jonson.
There was, however, no such intention, for it remained in manuscript
for fully two hundred years.
Only then, a copy of this incisive characteristic came before the world
at large. The Scottish nobleman and poet had written it down, together
with many utterances of Jonson, after his guest who most freely and
severely criticised his contemporaries had left. The perspicacity
of Drummond, and the truthful rendering of his impressions, are fully
confirmed by Jonson's manner of life and the contents of his literary
productions.  Drummond concludes his notes thus:--
'He' (Jonson) 'is a great lover and praiser of himself; a contemner and
scorner of others; given rather to loose a friend than a jest; jealous
of every word and action of those about him (especially after drink,
which is one of the elements in which he liveth): a dissembler of ill
parts which reigne in him; a bragger of some good that he wanteth;
thinking nothing well but what either himself or some of his friends
and countrymen have said or done. He is passionately kind and angry;
careless either to gain or keep; vindicative, but, if he be well
answered, at himself. For any religion, as being versed in both;
interpreteth best sayings and deeds often to the worst. Oppressed
with fantasie, which has ever mastered his reason: a general disease
in many poets.'
It will easily be understood that between two natures of so opposite a
bent as that of the quarrelsome Jonson and 'gentle Shakspere,'
friendship for any length of time could scarcely be possible. 
The creations of the dramatist obtain their real value by the poet's
own character. He who breathes a soul into so many figures destined
for action must himself be gifted with a greatness of soul that
encompasses a world. In the dramatic art, such actions only charm which
are evolved out of clearly defined passions; and such characters only
awake interest which bear human features strongly marked. If, however,
we cast a glance at the dramatic productions of Ben Jonson, we in vain
look among the many figures that crowd his stage for one which could
inspire us with sympathy. Time has pronounced its verdict against his
creations: they are lying in the archive of mere curiosities. Even the
inquirer feels ill at ease when going for them to their hiding-place.
Jonson's characters do not speak with the ever unmistakeable and
touching voice of human passions. In his comedies he produces the
strangest whims, caprices, and crotchets, by which he probably points
to definite persons. The clue to these often malignant dialectics
is very difficult to find.
The action of his plays--if incidental quarrels, full of sneering
allusions, are left aside--is generally of such diminutive proportions
that one may well ask, after the perusal of some of his dramas, whether
they contain any action at all. No doubt the satirist, too, has his
legitimate place in the dramatic art; but he must know how to hit the
weaknesses of human nature in certain striking types. Jonson, however,
is far from being able to lay a claim to such dramaturgic merit. At
'haphazard he took certain individualities from the idly gossiping crowd
that congregated in the central nave of St. Paul's Church, and put them
on the stage. Whoever had been strutting about there to-day in his
silken stockings, proudly displaying the nodding feathers in his hat,
his rich waist-coat and mantle, and boasting a little too loud before
some other gallant of his love adventures, ran great danger--like all
those whose demeanour in St. Paul's gave rise to backbiting gossip--of
being pourtrayed in the 'Rose,' in the 'Curtain,' or in the theatres
of the 'little eyases,' in such a manner that people were able, in
the streets, to point them out with their fingers.
Like so many other novelties, this kind of comedy, too, may for a while
have found its admirers. Soon, however, this degradation of the Muse
brought up such a storm that Jonson had to take refuge in another
domain of the dramatic art (1601). He himself confesses:--
And since the Comic Muse
Hath proved so ominous to me, I will try
If Tragedy have a more kind aspect. 
But he is nothing if not satirical. The persons that are to enliven his
tragedies are not filled with the true breath of life. They are mere
phantoms or puppets of schoolcraft, laboriously put together by a
learning drawn from old folios. In his tragedies, 'Sejanus' and
'Cataline,' he seeks to describe Romans whose whole bearing was to be
in pedantically close harmony with the time in which the dramatic
action occurs. Only a citizen from a certain period of ancient Rome
would be able to decide whether this difficult but thankless problem
had been solved. These cold academic treatises--for such we must,
practically, take them to be--were not relished by the public. There
is no vestige of human passion in the bookish heroes thus put on the
stage. For their sorrows the audience has no feeling of fear or anguish
and no tear of compassion.
Jonson, indignant at the small estimate in which his arduously composed
works were received, ill-humoured by their want of success, looked
enviously upon Shakspere, who had not been academically schooled; who
audaciously overthrew the customs of the antique drama; who made his
own rules, or rather, who made himself a rule to others; who created
metrics that were peculiarly his; who chose themes hitherto considered
non-permissible, and unusual with Greeks and Romans; who flung the
'three unities' to the winds; and who, nevertheless, had an unheard-of
This favourite of the public, Jonson seems to have looked upon as the
main obstacle barring the way to his own genius. Against this towering
rival, Jonson directed a hail of satirical arrows. Only take, for
instance, the prologue to 'Every Man in his Humour.'  There, Jonson,
with the most arrogant conceit, tries to make short work of various
dramas of Shakspere's--for instance, of his historical plays, in which
... with three rusty swords,
And help of some few foot and half-foot words,
Fight over York and Lancaster's long jars,
And in the tyring-house bring wounds to scars.
In 'The Poetaster,' which in 1601 was acted by the children of the Queen's
Chapel, Jonson made an attack upon three poets. We hope to be able to
prove that the one most bitterly abused, and who is bidden to swallow
the 'pill,' is no other than Shakspere, whilst the two remaining ones
are John Marston and Thomas Dekker. From the 'Apologetical Dialogue'
which Jonson wrote after 'The Poetaster' had already passed over the
stage, we see that this satire had excited the greatest indignation
and sensation in the dramatic world. It was a new manner of falling
out with a colleague before the public. The conceited presumption
of the author, who in the play itself assumes the part of Horace,
seriously proclaiming himself as the poet of poets, as the worthiest
of the worthy, is not less enormous and repulsive than the way in
which he proceeds against his rivals.
Quite innocently, Jonson asks in that dialogue (which was spoken on the
stage after 'The Poetaster' had given rise to a general squabble), how
it came about that such a hubbub was made of that play, seeing that it
was free from insults, only containing 'some salt' but 'neither tooth,
nor gall,' whilst his antagonists, after all, had been the cause of
whatever remarks he himself had made:--
... But sure I am, three years
They did provoke me with their petulant styles,
On every stage. And I at last, unwilling,
But weary, I confess, of so much trouble,
Thought I would try if shame could win upon 'em.
In some comedies of Shakspere, which appeared between the years 1598
and 1601, there are characters markedly stamped with Jonsonian
peculiarities. We may be convinced that 'gentle Shakspere' had
received many a provocation  before he took notice of the obscure
dramatist who was younger by ten years than himself, and publicly
gave him a strong lesson. 'All's Well that Ends Well' contains a
figure, Parolles, whose peculiarities are too closely akin to those
of Ben Jonson to be regarded as a mere fortuitous accident; especially
when we find that Jonson, in 'The Poetaster,' again tries to ridicule
this hit by a characteristic expression. 
Parolles is a follower of Count Rousillon. His position is not further
defined than that he follows Bertram; he is a cross between a gentleman
and a servant. We hear the old Lord Lafeu reproaching him in act ii.
'Why dost thou garter up thy arms o' this fashion? dost make hose of thy
sleeves? Do other servants do so?'
Again he calls him--'a vagabond, no true traveller: you are more saucy
with lords and honourable personages than the heraldry of your birth and
virtue gives you commission.' 
Parolles boasts of being born under the sign of Mars, and up to every
heroic deed; and it is certainly an allusion to Jonson's bravado of
having in the Low Countries, in the face of both camps, killed an enemy
and taken _opima spolia_ from him, that Shakspere lets this
character make the attempt to retake, single-handed, from the enemy, a
drum that had been lost in the battle. Of course, Parolles finally comes
out a coward and a traitor. Parolles also mentions that he understands
In the character of Malvolio ('Twelfth Night; or What You Will,'
1600-1601), the quarrelsome Ben has long ago been suspected, who,
puffed up with braggart pride, contemptuously looks down upon his
colleagues, and impudently exerts himself to gain access to high social
circles; thus assuming, like Parolles, a position that does not properly
belong to him. Even as Lord Lafeu takes Parolles a peg lower, so Sir
Toby (act. ii. sc. 3) reminds the haughty Malvolio that he is nothing
more than a steward. The religion of Malvolio also is several times
discussed. Merry Maria relates that he is a 'Puritan or anything
constantly but a time-pleaser.' Nor is the priest wanting who is to
drive out the hyperbolical fiend from the captive Malvolio: an
unmistakeable allusion to Ben Jonson's conversion in prison. The Fool
who represents the Priest, puts a question referring to Pythagoras to
Malvolio who is groaning 'in darkness' and yearning for freedom. He
receives an evasive answer from the prisoner. In 'Volpone,' as we
shall see, Jonson answers it very fully. 
Altogether, there are allusions in 'The Poetaster,' and in 'Volpone,'
to 'All's Well that Ends Well,' and to 'What You Will,' which we shall
have to touch upon in speaking of those plays.
The scene of 'The Poetaster' is laid at the court of Augustus Caesar.
Jonson therein describes himself under the character of Horace. The
whole drift of the play is, to take the many enemies of the latter
to task for their calumnies and libels against him. Rome is the place
of action, and the persons of the drama bear classic names. There are,
besides Augustus and Horace, Mecaenas (_sic_), Virgil, Propertius,
Trebatius, Ovid, Demetrius Fannius, _Rufus Laberius Crispinus_, and
so forth. The characters whom they are to represent are mostly
authors of the dramatic world around Ben Jonson. They are depicted
with traits so easily recognisable that--as Dekker says in his
'Satiromastix'--of five hundred people four hundred could 'all point
with their fingers in one instant at one and the same man.'
More especially against two disciples of the Muse is Jonson's 'gally
ink' directed. Let us give a few instances of the lampoons and
calumnious squibs by which Horace pretends having been insulted on
the part of envious colleagues who, he maintains, look askance at
him because 'he keeps more worthy gallants' company' than they can get
into. In act iv. sc. I, Demetrius tells Tucca:--
'Alas, Sir, Horace! he is a mere sponge; nothing but humours and
observation; he goes up and down, sucking from every society, and
when he comes home, squeezes himself dry again.'
Tucca adds:--'He will sooner lose his best friend than his least jest.'
Crispinus is found guilty of having composed a libel against Horace,
of which the following may serve as a specimen:--
Ramp up my genius, be not retrograde;
But boldly nominate a spade a spade.
What, shall thy lubrical and glibbery muse
Live, as she were defunct, like punk in stews?
Alas! that were no modern consequence,
To have cothurnal buskins frighted hence.
No, teach thy Incubus to poetize;
And throw abroad thy spurious snotteries....
O poets all and some! for now we list
Of strenuous vengeance to clutch the fist.
Such was the language the contemporaries of Shakspere used. Are we to
wonder, then, if here and there we find in his works an offensive
The two persons who are specially taken to task, and most harshly
treated, are Demetrius Fannius, 'play-dresser and plagiarius,' and
RUFUS LABERIUS CRISPINUS, '_poetaster and plagiarius_.' In 'Satiromastix,'
Demetrius clearly comes out as Dekker. Crispinus is the chief character
of the play:--'the poetaster.' Against him the satire is mainly directed,
and for his sake it seems to have been written, for the title runs
thus: 'The Poetaster, or His Arraignment.' From all the characteristic
qualities of Crispinus we draw the conclusion that this figure
From the above-mentioned passage in 'The Return from Parnassus' it would
seem as if a '_pill_' had been administered in the play to several poets.
That is, however, not so. Then, as now, the plural form was a favourite
one with writers afraid to attack openly. Horace administers a pill
only to one poet--to Crispinus. And as Kemp says that Shakspere,
thereupon, gave a '_purge_,' the conclusion is obvious that he who took
revenge by administering the purge, must have been the one to whom
the pill had been given. 'Volpone,' a play directed against the
'purge'--that is, 'Hamlet'--will convince us that the chief controversy
lay between Jonson and Shakspere, and not between Jonson and Dekker.
The following points will, we think, make it still clearer that we are
warranted in believing that the figure of Crispinus was intended by
Jonson for Shakspere.
When, in presence of Augustus, as well as of the high jurors Maecenas,
Tibullus, and Virgil, the two poetasters have been heard; when Horace
has forgiven Demetrius,  and Crispinus, under the sharp effects of
the pill, has thrown up, amidst great pain,  the disgraceful
words which he had used against Horace, he is dismissed by the latter
with the admonition to observe, in future, a strict and wholesome diet;
to take each morning something of Cato's principles; then taste a
piece of Terence and suck his phrase; to shun Plautus and Ennius as
meats too harsh for his weak stomach, and to read the best Greeks,
'but not without a tutor.'
This fits in with Shakspere's 'small Latin and less Greek'--a
circumstance of which Jonson himself, in his poem in memory of
Shakspere (1623), thought he should remind the coming generations.
It is, no doubt, a little revenge for the 'dark chamber' in which
Malvolio  is imprisoned, that, after Horace has concluded his
speech in which the study of Latin and Greek is recommended to
Crispinus as something very necessary for him, Virgil should add the
And for a week or two see him locked up
In some dark place, removed from company;
He will talk idly else after his physic.
The full name given by Jonson to Crispinus is--RUFUS LABERIUS CRISPINUS.
John Marston already, in 1598, designates Shakspere with the nickname
'_Rufus_.' Everyone can convince himself of this by first reading
Shakspere's 'Venus and Adonis,' and immediately afterwards John
Marston's 'Metamorphosis of Pigmalion's Image.'  We do not know
whether it has struck anyone as yet that this poem of Marston is a
most evident satire, written even in the same metre as Shakspere's
first, and at that time most popular, poem.  In his sixth satire
of 'The Scourge of Villanie,' Marston explains why he had composed
his 'Pigmalion's Image:'--
Yet deem'st that in sad seriousnesse I write
such nasty stuff as in Pigmalion?
Such maggot-tainted, lewd corruption! ...
Hence, thou misjudging censor: know I wrot
Those idle rimes to note the odious spot
and blemish that deformes the lineaments
of modern poesies habiliments.
At the end of his satire ('Pigmalion's Image'), Marston
self-complacently tacks on a concluding piece: 'The Author in Praise
of his Precedent Poem.' Whom else does he address there than him
whose poetical manner he wished to mock--namely, Shakspere's--when
he begins with these words:--
Now, Rufus! by old Glebron's fearfull mace,
Hath not my Muse deserv'd a worthy place? ...
Is not my pen compleate? Are not my lines
Right in the swaggering humour of these times?
The name of 'Rufus' has two peculiarities which may have induced
Marston to confer it upon Shakspere. First of all, like the English
king of that name, Shakspere's pre-name was William. Secondly, the
best-preserved portrait of Shakspere shows him with hair verging upon
a reddish hue.
But not only the colour of the hair, but also its thinness (according
to all pictures and busts we have of Shakspere, he was bald-headed),
seems to have been satirised by Jonson in his 'Poetaster.' In act ii.
sc. 1, Chloe asks Crispinus, who, excited by her love and her beauty,
pretends becoming a poet, whether, as a poet, he would also change his
hair? To which Crispinus replies, 'Why, a man may be a poet, and yet not
change his hair.'
Now Dekker, in his 'Satiromastix, in which all personal insults are to be
avenged (for which reason the chief personages of 'The Poetaster' are
introduced under the same name), makes Horace give forth a long song in
praise of 'heades thicke of hair,' whilst Crispinus gives another in
honour of 'balde heads;' from which we conclude that Chloe's remark on
Crispinus' hair has reference to a bald pate, but the name of 'Rufus'
to the colour of whatever hair there is.
'Rufus Laberius Crispinus' might truly be thus rendered: 'The red-haired
SHAK-erius, with the crisp-head, who cribs like St. Crispin.' The word
Rufus, as already explained, reminds us both of Shakspere's red
hair and his pre-name 'William.' Laberius (from _labare_, to shake;
hence Shak-erius, a similar nickname as Greene's SHAKE-_scene_)
is clearly an indication of the poet's family name. The Roman custom
of placing the name of the _gens_, or family, in the middle of a
person's name, leaves no doubt as to Jonson's intention. Laberius
was a dramatic poet, even as Shakspere. Laberius was an actor (Suet. c.i.
39). So was Shakspere. Laberius played in his own dramas. Shakspere did
the same. Laberius' name corresponds etymologically, as regards meaning,
to the root-syllable in Shakspere's name. Could Jonson, who was so well
versed in classics, have made his satirical allusion plainer or more
poignant? In Crispinus, both Shakspere's curly hair and the offence of
application, plagiarism, or literary theft, with which he is charged
by his antagonist, are manifestly marked; St. Crispin being noted among
the saints for his filching habits. He made shoes for the poor from
materials stolen from the rich.
Crispinus approaches Horace quite as a 'Johannes Factotum,' as Greene
had designated Shakspere in 1592. Jonson makes him assert that he, too,
is a scholar, a writer conversant with every kind of poetry, and a
Stoic. He also declares that he is studying architecture, and that,
if he builds a house,  it must be similar to one before which
they are standing.
In Dekker's 'Satiromastix,' Crispinus is described as being of a most
gentle nature. This is in harmony with the well-known quality generally
attributed to Shakspere. In the beginning of 'Satiromastix,' Crispinus
approaches Horace for the object of peace and reconciliation. The latter
excuses himself, in words similar to those of the 'Apologetical
Dialogue,' that even if he should 'dip his pen in distilde Roses,'
or strove to drain out of his ink all gall,  yet his enemies would
look at his writings 'with sharpe and searching eyes.' Nay--
When my lines are measur'd out as straight
As even parallels, 'tis strange that still,
Still some imagine they are drawne awry.
The error is not mine, but in their eye;
That cannot take proportions.
_Crispinus_. Horrace, Horrace!
To stand within the shot of galling tongues,
Proves not your gilt, for could we write on paper,
Made of these turning leaves of heaven, the cloudes,
Or speak with Angels tongues: yet wise men know,
That some would shake the head, tho' saints should sing,
Some snakes must hisse, because they're borne with stings.
_Horace_. 'T is true.
_Crispinus_. Doe we not see fooles laugh at heaven? and mocke
The Makers workmanship?
Crispinus goes on telling Horace that none are safe from such calumnies;
but that, if his 'dastard wit' will 'strike at men in corners,' if he
will 'in riddles folde the vices' of his best friends, then he must
expect also that they will 'take off all gilding from their pilles,'
and offer him 'the bitter coare' (core).  With great emphasis,
Crispinus admonishes Horace not to swear that he did not intend whipping
the private vices of his friends while his '_lashing jestes make all
men bleed_.' Crispinus concludes his mild, conciliatory speech with
We come like your phisitions (physicians) to purge
Your sicke and daungerous minde of her disease.
A peace is then concluded, which Horace (Jonson) again breaks, for which
he receives his punishment towards the end of 'Satiromastix.' Dekker,
who brings in the chief personages of 'The Poetaster' under the same
name, makes, in this counter-piece, two parts of the figure of Rufus
Laberius Crispinus--namely, that of William Rufus, the king, at whose
court he lays the scene (Jonson's drama has the court of Augustus), and
that of Crispinus, the poet. The part of the king is a very unimportant
one; and it may be assumed that Dekker intended the king and the poet
to be looked upon as the same person. The object of the play-dresser
Demetrius (Dekker) was, no doubt, to do homage in this way to his
chief Crispinus--that is, Shakspere. When the accused Horace is to be
judged, the King says to Crispinus:--
Not under us, but next us take thy seate;
Artes nourished by Kings make Kings more great.
Crispinus declares Horace guilty of having 'rebelled against the sacred
laws of divine Poesie,' not out of love of virtue, but--
Thy pride and scorn made her turne saterist.
Horace, on account of his crimes against the sacred laws of divine
poesy, is not 'lawrefyed,' but 'nettlefyed:' not crowned with laurels,
but with a wreath of nettles, and afterwards, in Sancho Panza manner,
tossed in a blanket. He then is told:--'You shall not sit in a
Gallery when your Comedies and Enterludes have entred their Actions,
and there make vile faces at everie lyne, to make Gentlemen have an eye
to you, and to make Players afraide to take your part.' Furthermore,
he 'must forsweare to venter on the stage when your Play is ended, and
to exchange courtezies and complements with Gallants in the Lordes
roomes, to make all the house rise up in Armes, and to cry that's
Horace, that's he, that's he, that's he, that pennes and purges
Humours and diseases.' He must promise 'not to brag in Bookebinders
shops that your Vize-royes or Tributorie Kings have done homage to
you, or paide Quarterage.' And--'when your Playes are misse-likt at
Court, you shall not Crye Mew like a Pusse-Cat, and say you are
glad you write out of the Courtiers Elements.' 
In his Preface to 'Satiromastix' ('To the World '), Dekker says that
in this play he did '_only whip his_ (Horace's) _fortunes and
condition of life, where the more noble_ REPREHENSION _had bin of
his_ MINDES DEFORMITIE.' 
This nobler reprehension, as we have sufficiently shown, was undertaken
by Shakspere in his 'Hamlet.'  Dekker, in his Epilogue to
'Satiromastix' (he there speaks of the 'Heretical Libertine Horace'),
asks the public for its applause; for Horace would thereby be induced
to write a counter-play: which, if they hissed his own 'Satiromastix,'
would not be the case. By applauding, they would thus, in fact, get
more sport; for we 'will untrusse him agen, and agen, and agen.'
Shakspere may have been tired of this fruitless pastime, of those
pitiful squabbles, as appears also from the reproach he makes in
'Hamlet'to his people. By the '_more noble_ REPREHENSION' which
he administered to Jonson and his party, he became absorbed in the
profounder problems concerning mankind. The time of the lighter
comedies is now past for him. There follow now his grandest
master-works. Henceforth the poet stands in a relation created by
himself to his God and to the world.
We proceed to an examination of 'Volpone,' of that play which Jonson
sent as a counter-thrust after 'Hamlet,' and from which, as regards
our Hamlet-Montaigne theory, we hope to convince our readers in the
clearest manner possible.
1: Arber's _English Scholars Library_, 1879, shows that this highly
interesting drama was for the first time given at Cambridge in
1602. If so, the manuscript has unquestionably received additions
during the four years before its appearance in print. The fact is,
we find in the play certain evident allusions which could not
possibly have been added before the years 1603-4; for instance,
references to the translators of Montaigne--John Florio, and the
friends who aided him;--references which must have been made after
the _Essais_ were published.
In act i. sc. 2, Judicio speaks of the English 'Flores Poetarum,
against whom can-quaffing hucksters shoot their pellets.' These
'_Flores_ Poetarum' are _Florio_ and his fellow-workers, among whom Ben
Jonson is also to be reckoned; and we shall see farther on that the
latter abuses these offensive hucksters as 'vernaculous orators,'
because they make Montaigne the target of their sneers. Again,
in act iv. sc. 2, Furor Poeticus, Ingenioso, and Phantasma indulge
in expressions which can only apply to the Dedications and the
Sonnets of Florio's translation. Phantasma, for instance, addresses
an Ode of Horace to himself:--
'Maecenas, atavis edite regibus,
O et praesidium et dulce decus meum
Dii faciant votis vela secunda tuis.'
The latter line ought to run:--
Sunt, quos curriculo pulverem Olympicum,
and if we take into consideration that Juror says in the same
And when thy swelling vents amain,
Then Pisces be thy sporting chamberlain,
it is not asserting too much that these are manifest hits at Florio,
who, to please his Maecenas, tries with Dr. Diodati, his 'guide-fish'
to capture the 'whale' in the 'rocke rough ocean.'
Florio's way of translating the Latin classic writers into
indifferent English rhymes is also repeatedly ridiculed. The
latter (Florio, p. 574.) once gives a passage from Plautus
(_The Captives_, Prologue, v. 22) correctly enough: 'The Gods,
perdye (_pardieu_), doe reckon and racket us men as their
tennis balls.' Furor Poeticus, in one of his fits of fine frenzy,
The heavens' promoter that doth peep and prey
Into the acts of mortal tennis balls.
This he says after having, in the same highly comic speech,
travestied Florio's Dedication of the third book, in which that
gallant compares himself to 'Mercury between the radiant orbs of
Venus and the Moon'--that is, the two ladies to whom he dedicates
the book in question, and before whom he alleges he 'leads a
dance.' A further sneer is directed by Furor Poeticus against the
lazy manner with which Florio's Muse rises from her nest.
Additional allusions to dramatic publications from the years
1603-4 will be found on pp. 201, 202. Another proof that the play
(_The Return from Parnassus_) cannot be of a uniform cast,
is this: In act i. sc. 2 a list of the poets is given, that are to
be criticised. The list is kept up in proper succession as far as
'John Davis.' Then there are variations, and names not contained
in that list. These additions mostly refer to dramatic authors,
whilst the previous names, as far as 'John Davis,' only refer to
We believe the intention of the first writer of _The Return
from Parnassus_ was only to criticise lyric poets. Moreover,
Monius says in the Prologue:--'What is presented here, is an old
musty show, that has lain this twelvemonth in the bottom of a
coal-house amongst brooms and old shoes.' Our opinion is that
_The Return from Parnassus_, after having been acted before
a learned public at Cambridge, came into the hands of players
who applied the manner in which lyric poets had been criticised
in it, to dramatic writers. The authors of the additions must
have been friends of Shakspere; for, as we shall find, the enemies
of the latter are also theirs.
2: Act iv. sc. 3.
3: In _The Poetaster_, of which we shall speak farther on.
4: According to certain indications in _Satiromastix_,
he had an 'ambling' walk, or dancing kind of step. (See _note_
5: Collier's _Memoirs of Alleyn_, pp. 50 and 51.
6: _Conversations with Drummond_.
7: _Satiromastix_, 1602.
8: Collier's _Drama_, i. 334.
10: Compare his Dedication in _Volpone_, of which we shall have
more to say.
11: _Drummond's Conversations_.
12: Of all styles, Jonson liked best to be named 'Honest;' and he
'hath ane hundred letters so naming him.'--_Conversations with
13: _Life of Dryden_, p. 265.
14: By Aubrey called 'Jack Young.'
15: As if the whole world had made it a point to conspire against
Jonson, Gifford laboriously exerts himself to defend him against the
numberless attacks of all the previous commentators, critics, and
biographers. The endeavour of Gifford to whitewash him seems to me
as fruitless a beginning as that of the little innocent represented
in a picture as trying to change, with sponge and soap, the African
colour of her nurse's face.
16: Jonson's _Eulogy of Shakspere_ was composed seven years after the
death of the latter. Having most probably been requested by
Heminge and Condell not to withhold his tribute from the departed,
to whom both his contemporaries as well as posterity had done homage,
Jonson may readily have seized the occasion to do amends for the
wrong he had inflicted upon the great poet during his lifetime. A
later opinion of Jonson in regard to Shakspere (_Timber; or
Discoveries made upon Men and Matter_, 1630-37) is of a more moderate
tone, and on some points in contradiction to the words of praise
contained in the published poem.
17: _Poetaster_, Apol. Dialogue.
18: This Prologue is not contained in the first edition (1598), but
only in the second (1616). It may, therefore, have been written
in the meantime. It is supposed that it was so in 1606. (See
_Shakspere's Century of Praise_, 1879, pp. 118, 119.)
19: Only a few of the earliest productions of Jonson have come
down to us. Some of them are: _Every Man in His Humour_
(1598); _Every Man out of His Humour_ (1599); and _Cynthia's
Revels_ (1600), all of them full of personal allusions. Many of
these are meant against Shakspere. We cannot, however, enter more
fully upon that, as we have to confine ourselves to the chief
controversy out of which _Hamlet_ arose. Neither on Jonson's
nor on Shakspere's part did the controversy cease after the
appearance of _Hamlet_. It was still carried on through several
dramas, which, however, we leave untouched, as not belonging
to our theme.
20: See _note_ 25.
21: In _Satiromastix_ this reproach is made to Ben Jonson:--'Horace
did not screw and wriggle himselfe into great Mens famyliarity,
impudentlie as thou doost.'
22: Gifford, in his nervous anxiety to parry every reproach
against his much-admired, and, in his eyes, blameless Jonson whose
quarrelsomeness had from so many parts been properly charged, and
particularly desirous of shielding him against the accusation of
having taken up an attitude hostile to Shakspere, declares, in
contradiction to the opinion of all previous commentators, that
_Crispinus_ is to represent John Marston. Since then, Gifford's
assertion has been taken for granted, without deeper inquiry. The
authority of this fond editor of Jonson has, however, proved an
untrustworthy one in many things, especially in matters relating to
Shakspere. Thanks to the exertions of more recent inquirers, not a
a few things are now seen in a better perspective than Gifford was
able to offer. We admit the difficulty of reconstructing facts from
productions like _The Poetaster_, which had been dictated by the
overwrought feelings of the moment. But in a satire which bred so much
'tumult,' which 'could so deeply offend,' and 'stir so many hornets'
(four hundred persons out of five hundred being able to point with
their fingers, in one instant, at one and the same man), the
characters must have been very broadly drawn for general
recognition. By such broad traits we must still be guided in our
judgment to-day. All the characteristic qualities of Crispinus,
which we shall explain farther on, prove that Gifford's idea about
Crispinus being John Marston is not tenable.
This latter poet was very well versed in Greek and Latin, and had a
complete classic education. The admonition of Horace to perfect
himself in both languages, is therefore not applicable to him.
Furthermore, Marston, at the time The Poetaster was composed (this
may have been towards the end of the year 1600, or the beginning of
1601), had scarcely yet written anything for the stage. Only his
_Metamorphosis of Pigmalion's Image and Certaine Satyres_ (1598),
and his _Scourge of Villanie_ (1599) had been published. His first
tragedy came out in print in 1602; it may just have been in course
of becoming known on the stage. We have no means of ascertaining
whether it had already been acted when _The Poetaster_ appeared.
This much is however certain, that when this latter satire obtained
publicity, Marston's relations to the drama and the stage must yet
have been of the most insignificant kind; for Philip Henslowe, in
his Diary (pp. 156, 157), expressly speaks of him, even in 1599, as
a 'new' poet to whom he had lent, through an intermediary, the sum
of forty shillings 'in earneste of a Boocke,' the title of which is
not mentioned. Is it, then, conceivable that such a dramatist who
in 1601 certainly was yet very insignificant, should have been made
the subject, in 1601, in Jonson's _Poetaster_, of the following
very characteristic remark--assuming Crispinus to have been
intended for Marston?
Tucca says, in regard to the former, to a poor player (act
iii. sc. i):--'If he pen for thee once, thou shalt not need to travel
with thy pumps full of gravel any more, after a blind jade and a
hamper, and stalk upon boards and barrel-heads to an old cracked
Does this not quite fit Shakspere's popularity and dramatic
Jonson, it is true, tells Drummond that he had written his
_Poetaster_ against Marston. (According to his declaration in the
'Apologetical Dialogue,' there is nothing personal in the whole
_Poetaster!_ 'I can profess I never writt that piece more innocent
or empty of offence.') However, we form our judgment in this
matter from the clear, well-marked, and indubitably characteristic
traits of the play, as well as from the results of modern criticism,
which are fully in harmony with those traits. Everything points
to the figure of Ovid being a mask for Marston. Jonson perhaps
chose the name of Ovid for him because he, too, had written
_Metamorphoses_. Besides the before-mentioned _Metamorphosis
of Pigmalion's Image_, it is not improbable that Marston is the
author of the manuscript preserved in the British Museum:--_The
New Metamorphosis; or, A Feaste or Fancie of Poeticall Legendes.
The first parte divided into twelve books. Written by I. M.,
gent._, 1600. Ovid--Marston--in the _Poetaster_, is described as the
younger son of a gentleman of considerable position. He is
dependent on a stipend allowed to him by his father. After having
absolved his studies, he is to become an advocate, but secretly he
devotes his time to poetry. The father warns him that poverty will
be his lot if he does not renounce poetry. Ovid senior makes the
following reproach to his son (which probably has reference to
Marston's first tragedy, _Antonio and Mellida_):--'I hear of a
tragedy of yours coming forth for the common players there, called
_Medea_. By my household gods, if I come to the acting of it, I'll
add one tragic part more than is yet expected to it.... What?
shall I have my son a stager now? an enghle for players?... Publius,
I will set thee on the funeral pile first!'
All this harmonises with the few facts we know of Marston's
career, who is said to have been the son of a counsellor of the
Middle Temple, who was at Corpus Christi College at Oxford,
and who was made a _baccalaureus_ there on February 23, 1592. In
comparison with Crispinus and Demetrius, Ovid is but mildly
chaffed; and this, again, is in accord with the relations which soon
after arose, in a very friendly manner, between Jonson and Marston. It
is scarcely to be thought that, if Marston had been derided as
Crispinus, he would already have composed, as early as 1603, his
eulogistic poem on Jonson's _Sejanus_, and dedicated to him in
1604, in such hearty words, his own _Malcontent_.
From some pointed words in the libel composed by Crispinus
against Horace, Gifford concludes that the former must be Marston,
because we meet with these pointed words in some satires and
dramas of Marston. We, on our part, go, in these controversial
plays, by the main and most prominent characteristics; and these
show that Crispinus is Shakspere, and Ovid Marston.
The latter even once says (_Scourge of Villanie_, sat. vi.) that
many a one, in reading his _Pigmalion_, has compared him to Ovid.
In order to make out Crispinus to be guilty before Augustus, strong
language is required. For this purpose, Jonson may have used the
way and manners of Marston, and applied some of his newly coined
graphic words. But this proves nothing for the identity of characters.
The libel also contains a pointed word of Shakspere--'retrograde'--an
expression little employed by the latter, and which is hurled as a
reproach against Parolles, the figure which in all likelihood is
to represent Jonson; Helena (act i. sc. 2) says to him, that he was
born under Mars, 'when he was retrograde.'
The remark in _The Return from Parnassus_ that few of the University
can pen plays well, smelling too much of that writer Ovid and
that writer _Metamorphosis_, has, in our opinion, also reference to
John Marston whose first dramatic attempts--although he, like
Jonson, may be called a 'University man'--do not admit of any
comparison with those of Shakspere.
23: Demetrius repentingly admits that it was from envy he had
ill-treated Horace, because 'he kept better company for the most
part than I, better men loved him than loved me; and his writings
thrived better than mine, and were better liked and graced.'
24: The little word 'clutcht' for a long time 'sticks strangely' in
Crispinus' throat; it is only thrown up with the greatest difficulty.
In _Hamlet_ (act v. sc. i, in the second verse of the grave-digger's
song) we hear, 'Hath claw'd me in his _clutch_. In the original song,
which is here travestied, the words are, 'Hath claw'd me with his
25: The following allusion in _The Poetaster_ (act iv. sc. 3) also has
reference to _Twelfth Night_:--'I have read in a book that to play
the fool wisely is high wisdom.' For Viola (act iii. sc. i) says:--
This fellow 's wise enough to play the fool;
And, to do that well, craves a kind of wit...
As full of labour as a wise man's art.
There are several indications in _The Poetaster_ pointing to
Shakspere's _Julius Caesar_ which had appeared in the same year
(1601). Not only does Horace say to Trebatius that 'great Caesar's
wars cannot be fought with words,' but he also corrects Shakspere,
who makes Antony (act iii. sc. 2) speak of Caesar's gardens on this
side of the Tiber, by putting into the mouth of Horace (act iii.
sc. i) the words:--' On the far side of all Tyber yonder.' In this
scene, where the two Pyrgi are examined, there are some more
allusions to _Julius Caesar_. Even the boy, whose instrument Brutus
takes away when he is asleep, is not wanting. In _The Poetaster_
it is a drum, instead of a lyre (the drum in _All's Well that Ends
Well_). And are the following words of the same scene no satire
upon act i. sc. 3 of _Julius Caesar_, where Casca and Cicero meet
amidst thunder and lightning?
2 _Pyrgi_. Where art thou, boy? where is Calipolis?
Fight earthquakes in the entrails of the earth,
And eastern whirlwinds in the hellish shades;
Some foul contagion of the infected heavens
Blast all the trees, and in their cursed tops
The dismal night-raven and tragic owl
Breed and become forerunners of my fall!
Casca dwells especially on the 'bird of night.'
26: The y, in Pygmalion, seems to us not without cause to be changed
by Marston into an i.
27: The number of metaphors used by Shakspere in 'Venus and Adonis,'
which Marston travesties, is strikingly large.
28: A few instances may here be given of the coarseness with which
Dekker pays back Jonson for his personal allusions. In _The Poetaster_,
Crispinus is told that his 'satin-sleeve begins to fret at the rug
that is underneath it.' In _Satiromastix_, Tucca cries out against
Horace (Jonson):--'Thou never yet fel'st into the hands of sattin.'
And again:--'Thou borrowedst a gowne of Roscius the stager, and
sentest it home lousie.' Crispinus, in _The Poetaster_, is derided
on account of his short legs. In _Satiromastix_, Horace is laughed at
for his 'ambling' walk; wherefore he had so badly played mad
Jeronimo's part. Jonson is reproached with all his sins: that he
had killed a player; that he had not thought it necessary to keep
his word to those whom he held to be _heretics_ and _infidels_, and
so forth. His face, which, as above mentioned, had scorbutic
marks, is stated to be 'like a rotten russet apple when it is
bruiz'd'; or, like the cover of a warming-pan, 'full of oylet-holes.'
He is called an 'uglie Pope Bonifacius;' also a 'bricklayer;' and
he is asked why, instead of building chimneys and laying down
bricks, he makes 'nothing but railes'--'filthy rotten railes'--upon
which alone his Muse leans. ('Railes' has a double meaning here:
rails for fencing in a house; and gibes.) He is told that his feet
stamp as if he had mortar under them--an allusion to his metrics,
as well as to his ambling walk.
29: Shakspere was already then the proprietor of a house--New
Place, in Stratford. In this scene Horace also asks
Crispinus:--'You have much of the mother in you, sir? Your father
is dead?' John Shakspere, the father, died in the year when
_The Poetaster_ was first performed--in September, 1601.
30: _Twelfth Night_, act iii. sc. 2. _Sir Toby_:--'Let there
be gall in thy ink, though thou write with a goose-pen.'
31: Here Crispinus threatens Horace with the 'purge' (a word
that may be used as a noun or a verb), which, in _The Return from
Parnassus_, is mentioned as having been administered by Shakspere
to Jonson. It is highly probable that the reconciliation between
Crispinus and Horace, which is described in the beginning of
_Satiromastix_, had taken place between Shakspere and Ben Jonson,
and that, during this period of peace, the performance of _Sejanus_
occurred, in which Shakspere actively co-operated. After that,
traces of hostility only are to be discovered between the two
Even when Horace, in the 'Satiromastix,' has again broken the peace,
the gentle Crispinus says to him:--
Were thy warpt soule put in a new molde,
I'd weare thee as a jewell set in golde.
32: The _Satiromastix_ was performed in 1602, probably in the
beginning of the year, as the Epilogue speaks of cold weather, and
Dekker scarcely would have waited a year with his answer to _The
Poetaster_. Queen Elizabeth died in 1603. Another decennium had to
pass (Shakspere had long since withdrawn to his Stratford) before
the taste of Whitehall had been so much lowered that Jonson could
become a favourite of the courtly element.
33: In such type it is printed in the original.
34: In _Satiromastix_, Captain Tucca once bawls out against Horace,
'My name's Hamlet Revenge!' as if it had become known already then
in the dramatic world that Shakspere was preparing his reply to
_The Poetaster_. In the latter play (act iii. sc. I) which was
probably added after _The Poetaster_ had already been acted, and
Jonson had heard that Dekker was writing his _Satiromastix_),
Jonson makes a player from the other side of the Tiber say:--'We
have hired him to abuse Horace, and bring him in, in a play, with
all his gallants, as Tibullus, Mecaenas, Cornelius Gallus, and the
rest....O, it will get us a huge deal of money, Captain, and we have
need on't; for this winter has made us all poorer than so many starved
snakes. Nobody comes at us, not a gentleman, nor a--'
In the same scene Tucca utters curses, before that player, against
the theatres on the other side of the Tiber. The actor he addresses
belongs to one of them. Tucca mentions two theatres by name--'your
Globes, and your Triumphs.' He says to the actor:--'Commend me
to seven shares and a half.' Shakespere and his colleagues had
certain fixed shares in the 'Globe;' and the words of the actor, as
regards the poor winter they had, confirm that which Shakspere gives
to understand in _Hamlet_, that 'there was, for a while, no money
bid for argument, unless the poet and the player went to cuffs in the
'VOLPONE,' by Ben Jonson.
'EASTWARD HOE,' by Chapman, Ben Jonson, and Marston.
'THE MALCONTENT,' by John Marston.
Ben Jonson's 'Volpone' was first acted in 1605; and on February 11, 1607,
it appeared in print.  It is preceded by a Dedication, in which the
author dedicates 'both it and himself' to 'the most noble and most
equal sisters, the two famous Universities,' in grateful acknowledgment
'for their love and acceptance shown to this Poem in the presentation.'
In this Dedication the most passionate language is used against all
contemporary poets--especially against those who now, he says, practise
'in dramatic, as they term it: stage-poetry, nothing but ribaldry,
profanation,' and 'all licence of offence to God and man.' Their
petulancy, he continues, 'hath not only rapt me to present indignation,
but made me studious heretofore;' for by them 'the filth of the time
is uttered, and with such impropriety of phrase, such plenty of
solecisms, such dearth of sense, so bold prolepses, so racked metaphors,
with brothelry able to violate the ear of a pagan, and blasphemy to
turn the blood of a Christian to water.'
Jonson expresses his purpose of standing off from them (the stage-poets)
'by all his actions.' Solemnly he utters this vow:--'I shall raise the
despised head of poetry again, and, stripping her out of those rotten
and base rags wherewith the times have adulterated her form, restore
her to her primitive habit, feature, and majesty, and render her worthy
to be embraced and kist of all the great and master-spirits of our
world.' This object of his--he adds--'may most appear in this my latest
work ('Volpone'), which you, most learned Arbitresses, have seen, judged,
and, to my crown, approved; wherein I have laboured for their instruction
and amendment, to reduce, not only the ancient forms, but manners of the
scene, the easiness, the propriety, the innocence, and last, the doctrine,
which is the principal end of poesie, to inform men in the best reason of
All contemporary dramatists are most pitilessly condemned by Ben Jonson,
and the cause of his present indignation is clearly stated: '_A name
so full of authority, antiquity, and all great mark, is, through their
insolence, become the lowest scorn of the age_;' moreover, '_my_
(Jonson's) _fame, and the reputation of divers honest and learned,
are the question_--that is to say, have been injured.
As in 'Volpone,' wherein Jonson, as he states, 'laboured for their
(the contemporary poets') instruction and amendment,' we shall find
most numerous allusions to Shakspere and 'Hamlet,' we feel justified
in asserting that Jonson's whole fury is, in his 'present indignation,'
roused against this particular author and against this special drama.
Therein, as we have shown, a name of authority, antiquity, and all
great mark--Montaigne--has been tampered with, and, through this
satire, divers honest and learned (John Florio and his coadjutors
in the translation--all friends of Jonson) have been injured, as well
as the latter's own fame. In 'Hamlet,' Shakspere brought his own
ideal of friendship in the figure of Horatio on the stage, in contrast
to the Horace of 'The Poetaster.' Jonson was not the man to be edified
by the beautiful examples and the nobler words of his gentle adversary,
Shakspere, or to alter his sentiments in accordance with them. He rather
welcomed every opportunity for a quarrel. That was the element in which
he lived; for thus he got the materials and the spicy condiments for his
dramas. Now in 'Hamlet' there were motives enough for lighting up a fire
of hatred against Shakspere, and to entertain the public therewith.
Jonson, always ready for battle, willingly takes up the pen in their
defence. In doing so, the favour of a nobleman and of some high-born
ladies could be earned, at whose wish and request Montaigne had been
Englished. Besides, every occasion was relished for opposing Shakspere,
who had attacked Montaigne whose religious creed was the same as that
The British Museum possesses a copy of 'Volpone,' on which Jonson has,
with his own hand, written the words:--'_To his loving father and
loving freind, Mr. John Florio, the ayde of his Muses: Ben Jonson seals
this testemony of freindship and love_.' Not the gift of this little
book, however, but its contents--namely, the attack which Jonson made,
both for the sake of his friend and for himself, against the great
antagonist (Shakspere)--must be held to be the token or '_testemony
of freindship and love_.'
In the very beginning of the Dedication, Jonson says that every author
ought to be heedful of his fame:--'Never, most equal sisters, had any
man a wit so presently excellent as that it could raise itself, but
there must come both matter, occasion, commenders, and favourers to it.
If this be true, and that the fortune of all writers doth daily prove
it, it behoves the careful to provide well towards these accidents;
and, having acquired them, to preserve that part of reputation most
tenderly, wherein the benefit of a friend is also defended.' He then
asserts that this is an age in which poetry, and the professors of it,
are so ill-spoken of on all sides because, in their petulancy, they
have yet to learn that one cannot be a good poet without first being
a good man.
In the following passage, curiously enough, a certain person is extolled
as the model of a good man, against whom the stage dramatists, who
themselves, according to Jonson, are not good men ('nothing remaining
with them of the dignity of the poet'), have, as he thinks, grievously
sinned:--'_He that is said to be able to inform young men to all good
disciplines, inflame grown men to all great virtues, keep old men in
their best and supreme state, or, as they decline to childhood, recover
them to their first strength;_  _that comes forth the interpreter and
arbiter of nature, a teacher of things divine no less than human,_ 
_a master in manners; and can alone, or with a few, effect the business
of mankind:_  _this, I take him, is no subject for pride and ance
to exercise their railing rhetoric upon._'
In this description we again see Montaigne, against whom 'railing
rhetoric' has been used.
Ben Jonson proudly points to himself as having never done such mischief:
'For my particular, I can, and from a most clear conscience, affirm
that I have ever trembled to think toward the least profaneness.'
Though--he says--he cannot wholly escape 'from some the imputation of
sharpness,' he does not feel guilty of having offered insult to anyone,
'except to a mimic, cheater, bawd, or buffoon.' But--'I would ask of
these supercilious politics, _what nation, society, or general order_
of state I have provoked? ... What public person?_ Whether I have not,
in all these, preserved their dignity, as mine own person, safe? ...
Where have I been particular? where personal?'
Who does not see in the following words a reproach launched against
Shakspere, that he has taken his materials from other writers? Who
does not feel that the warning addressed to 'wise and noble persons'
has reference to the highly placed protectors of the great rival whose
favour Ben Jonson, in spite of his Latin and Greek, was not able to
obtain? He says:--
'Application' (that is, plagiarism) 'is now grown a trade with many;
and there are that profess to have a key for the decyphering of
everything: but let wise and noble persons take heed how they be too
credulous, or give leave to these invading interpreters to be
over-familiar with their fames, who cunningly, and often, utter
their own virulent malice under other men's simplest meanings.'
Jonson then approves of those 'severe and wise patriots' who, in order
to provide against 'the hurts these licentious spirits may do in a State,'
rather desire to see plays full of 'fools and devils,' and 'those
antique relics of barbarism' (he means 'Masques,' which he wrote
with great virtuosoship) acted on the stage, than 'behold the wounds
of private men, of princes and nations.'
And now we come to the passage, partly already quoted, which more than
anything else shows that the '_purge_' which 'our fellow Shakspere
gave him'--'Hamlet'--must have greatly damaged, in the eyes of
the public, both the reputation of Jonson and of his friends. He
confesses it in these remarkable words:--
'_I cannot but be serious in a cause of this nature, wherein my fame,
and the reputation of divers honest and learned are the question; when
a name so full of authority, antiquity, and all great mark, is, through
their insolence, become the lowest scorn of the age; and those men
subject to the petulancy of every vernaculous orator, that were wont
to be the care of kings and happiest monarchs_.' 
Is there a character, we may ask, not only in Shakspere's dramas, but
in any play of that period, to which the description given by Jonson
could apply?--of course, Hamlet always excepted, who is but a mask
for Montaigne. And who else but Montaigne is designated by the
expressions: 'a name so full of authority, antiquity, and all great
mark;' 'the care of kings and happiest monarchs?'
That the 'railing rhetoric' in which such a character was derided, could
not be contained in a satirical poem, but had reference to a drama, is
proved, as already explained, by the fact of Jonson's wrath being
directed against the stage-poets. He says expressly, that henceforth,
by all his actions, he will 'stand off from them.' To the most learned
authorities, the two Universities, he announces that, by his own regular
art, he intends giving these wayward disciples of Dramatic Poesy proper
instruction and amendment. Had his object not been to strike the most
popular of the stage-poets--Shakspere--he would have been bound to make
an exception for that name of which everyone must have thought first
when stage-poets were subjected to reproof. We repeat: Jonson only
intended measuring himself against him who was the greatest of his time.
This was fully in accordance with his disputatious inclination. 
The person once '_wont to be the care of kings and happiest monarchs_'
 must have been a foreigner, for we do not know of any favourite
'_full of authority and antiquity_' who enjoyed such high privilege
from English kings. However, if a dramatist had been bold enough to
put such a favourite on the stage, he would have met with the most
severe punishment long before Jonson had pointed out his reprehensible
audacity. By the '_happiest monarchs_,' Henry III. and Henry IV.
of France are meant. The latter, at that time, yet stood in the zenith
of his good fortune. Again, the expression: '_of every vernaculous
orator_,' points to the circumstance of the mockery being directed
against a foreigner; and the same may be said of Jonson's question,
addressed to supercilious politicians, as to what nation, society, or
general order of State he had provoked? Clearly, another nation, a
society of different modes of thought than the English one, and foreign
institutions, are here indicated.
We now come to some hints contained in 'Volpone,' which partly consist
of an endeavour to expose Shakspere on account of plagiarisms committed
against other writers, partly of references to irreligious tendencies,
against which Jonson warns, and which he strives to ridicule.
Under the existing strict laws which forbade religious questions being
discussed on the stage, the latter references had to be made in parable
manner, but still not too covertly, so that they might be understood by
a certain audience--namely, the members of the Universities of Oxford
and Cambridge. 
Already, in the Prologue of his 'Volpone,' Jonson says of himself that--
In all his poems still hath been this measure,
To mix profit with your pleasure.
He also despises certain deceptive tricks of composition:--
Nor hales he in a gull old ends reciting,
To stop gaps in his loose writing;
With such a deal of monstrous and forced action,
As might make Bethlem a faction:
Nor made he his play for jests stolen from each table,
But makes jests to fit his fable....
The laws of time, place, persons he observeth,
From no needful rule he swerveth.
In the observance of the technical rules of the classic drama--this
much Jonson could certainly prove to the world--he was superior to
Shakspere. The severe words: 'monstrous and forced action,' can only
refer to a drama written not long before; for, in 'Volpone,' Jonson
wishes to give to the stage-poets of his time his own ideal of a
drama. 'Bethlem' (Bedlam) indicates madness round which all kinds of
lunatics might gather as factionaries or adherents of the kind of
drama which Jonson wishes to stigmatise.
Do we go too far in thinking that 'Hamlet' is the play which is made
the target of allusions in this very Prologue?
However, we proceed at once to the Interlude which follows after the
first scene of the first act of 'Volpone.' In it, Shakspere himself
is practically put on the stage, by being asked:
how of late thou hast suffered translation,
And shifted thy coat in these days of reformation.
This Interlude is in no connection with the course of
the dramatic action.
Mosca, a parasite, brings in, for the entertainment of his master
(Volpone), three merry Jack Andrews. One of them, Androgyno, must be
held to be SHAKSPERE.
Here we have to note that Francis Meres, a scholar of great repute,
and M.A. of both Universities, wrote in 1598 a book, entitled 'Palladis
Tamia,' which in English he calls 'Wit's Treasury.' It contains, so far
as the sixteenth century is concerned, the most valuable statements
as regards Shakspere: nay, the only trustworthy ones dating from that
century. In that work, Meres classifies and criticises the poets of his
time and country by comparing each of them with some Greek or Roman
poet, kindred to the corresponding English one in the line of production
chosen and in quality. Ben Jonson is only mentioned once, at a very modest
place; his name stands last, after Chapman and Dekker.
Meres confers upon Shakspere most enthusiastic but just praise:--
'As the soule of Euphorbus was thought to live in Pythagoras: so the
sweete, wittie soul of Ovid lives in mellifluous and hony-tongued
Shakespeare; witness his 'Venus and Adonis;' his 'Lucrece;' his sugred
'Sonnets' among his private friends.... As Plautus and Seneca are
accounted the best for Comedy and Tragedy amongst the Latines: so
Shakspere among the English is the most excellent in both kinds for
He then mentions twelve of his plays,  and thus concludes his
'As Epius Stolo said that the Muses would speake with Plautus tongue,
if they would speak Latin: so I say that the Muses would speak with
Shakespeare's fine filed phrases if they would speake English.'
The envious Jonson who pledges himself, in the Dedication to the two
Universities, to give back to Poesy its former majesty, may have
considered it necessary, before all, to deride, before a learned
audience, the enthusiastic praise conferred by Francis Meres upon
Shakspere, as well as Shakspere himself on account of the free
religious tendencies he had expressed in 'Hamlet' This is done, as
we said, in the Interlude prepared by Mosca for the entertainment
of his master. Volpone boasts of the clever manner with which he
I use no trade, no venture;
I wound no earth with ploughshares, fat no beasts
To feed the shambles; have no mills for iron,
Oil, corn, or men, to grind them into powder:
... expose no ships
To threatenings of the furrow-faced sea;
I turn no monies in the public bank,
Nor usure private.
Mosca, in order to flatter his master, continues the speech of the latter
in the same strain:--
... No, sir, nor devour
Soft prodigals. You shall have some will swallow
A melting heir as glibly as your Dutch
Will pills of butter, and ne'er purge for it; 
Tear forth the fathers of poor families
Out of their beds, and coffin them alive
In some kind clasping prison, where their bones
May be forthcoming, when the flesh is rotten:
But your sweet nature doth abhor these courses;
You lothe the widow's or the orphan's tears
Should wash your pavements, or their piteous cries
Ring in the roofs, and beat the air for vengeance.
We have here an allusion to Hamlet,  where he asks the Ghost why
the sepulchre has opened its 'ponderous and marble jaws' to cast him
up again; also to the Queen and whilom widow; and, furthermore, to
the orphans, Ophelia and Laertes, and to the tears shed by the latter
at his sister's death. The cry of vengeance refers to the similar
utterances of the Ghost, of Hamlet, and of Laertes, who all seek revenge.
Mosca, with a view of preparing for his master a pleasure more suitable
to his taste than that which a play like 'Hamlet,' we suppose, could
afford him, brings in the three gamesters:--Nano, a dwarf; Castrone,
a eunuch; and Androgyne, a hermaphrodite.  The latter is meant to
represent Shakspere; for he is introduced by Nano as a soul coming from
Apollo, which migrated through Euphorbus and Pythagoras (Meres uses
these two names in his eulogy of the soul of Shakspere). 
After having recounted several other stages in the migration of Androgyne's
soul (we shall mention them further on), the latter has to give an
answer why he has 'shifted his coat in these days of reformation,'
and why his 'dogmatical silence' has left him. He replies that an
obstreperous 'Sir Lawyer' had induced him to do so. From this it may
be concluded that Bacon had some influence on Shakspere's 'Hamlet.'
Are not, in poetical manner, the same principles advocated in 'Hamlet,'
which Bacon promoted in science? 
After the Hermaphrodite has admitted that he has become 'a good dull
mule,'  he avows that he is now a very strange beast, an ass, an
actor,a hermaphrodite, and a fool; and that he more especially relishes
this latter condition of his, for in all other forms, as Jonson makes
him confess, he has 'proved most distressed.' 
Let us now quote from this Interlude some highly-spiced satirical passages.
Nano, the dwarf, coming in with Androgyno and Castrone, asks for room for
the new gamesters or players, and says to the public:--
They do bring you neither play, nor university show;
And therefore do intreat you that whatsoever they rehearse,
May not fare a whit the worse, for the false pace of the verse. 
If you wonder at this, you will wonder more ere we pass,
For know, here  is inclosed the soul of Pythagoras, 
That juggler divine, as hereafter shall follow;
Which soul, fast and loose, sir, came first from Apollo.
It is explained how that soul afterwards transmigrated into 'the
goldy-locked Euphorbus who was killed, in good fashion, at the siege
of old Troy, by the cuckold of Sparta;' how it then passed into
Hermotimus, 'where no sooner it was missing, but with one Pyrrhus
of Delos  it learned to go a-fishing;'  how thence it did
enter the Sophist of Greece, Pythagoras. After having been changed
she became a philosopher,
Crates the cynick, as itself doth relate it: 
Since kings, knights and beggars, knaves, lords, and fools get it,
Besides ox and ass, camel, mule, goat, and brock, 
In all which it has spoke, as in the cobbler's cock. 
Nano's present intention, however, is not to refer to such things:--
But I come not here to discourse of that matter,
Or his one, two, or three, or his great oath, BY QUATER, 
His musics, his trigon, his golden thigh, 
Or his telling how elements  shift: but I
Would ask, how of late thou hast suffered translation
And shifted thy coat in these days of Reformation.
_Androgyno_. Like one of the reformed, a fool, as you see,
COUNTING ALL OLD DOCTRINE HERESIE.
_Nano_. But not on thine own forbid meats hast thou ventured.
_Androgyno_. On fish, when first a Carthusian I entered.
_Nano_. Why, then thy dogmatical silence hath left thee?
_Androgyno_. Of that an _obstreperous_ lawyer bereft me.
_Nano_. O wonderful change, when sir lawyer forsook thee!
For Pythagore's sake, what body then took thee?
_Androgyno_. A good dull mule.
_Nano_. And how! by that means Thou wert brought to allow of
the eating of beans?
_Nano_. But from the mule into whom didst thou pass?
_Androgyno_. Into a very strange beast, by some writers called
By others, a precise, pure, _illuminate brother_,
Of those devour flesh, and sometimes one another;
And will drop you forth a libel, or a sanctified lie,
Betwixt every spoonful of a Nativity  pie.
Nano then admonishes Androgyno to quit that profane nation. Androgyno
answers that he gladly remains in the shape of a fool and a hermaphrodite.
To the question of Nano, as to whether he likes remaining a hermaphrodite
in order to 'vary the delight of each sex,' Androgyno replies:--
Alas, those pleasures be stale and forsaken;
No 't is your fool wherewith I am so taken,
The only one creature that I can called blessed;
For all other forms I have proved most distressed.
_Nano_. Spoke true, as thou wert in Pythagoras still.
This learned opinion we celebrate will,...
With a song, praising fools, the Interlude closes.
In act ii. sc. 2, after Mosca and Volpone have erected a stage upon
the stage, Volpone enters, disguised as a mountebank, and abuses those
'ground ciarlatani' (charlatans, impostors) 'who come in lamely, with
their mouldy tales out of Boccaccio.' Then there is a most clear
allusion to Hamlet (act iv. sc. 6), where he informs his friend Horatio,
by letter, of his voyage to England when he was made prisoner by
pirates, who dealt with him 'like thieves of mercy.' A further remark
of Volpone on 'base pilferies,' and 'wholesome penance done for it,'
may be taken as a hit against Hamlet's 'fingering' the packet to 'unseal
their grand commission;' for which, in Jonson's view, he would be forced
by his father confessor, in a well-regulated Roman Catholic State, to
This is what Volpone says:--
'No, no, worthy gentlemen; to tell you true, I cannot endure to see
the rabble of these ground ciarlatani, that ... come in lamely, with
their mouldy tales out of Boccaccio, like stale Tabarine, the fabulist;
some of them discoursing their travels; and of their tedious captivity
 in the Turks' galleys, when, indeed, were the truth known, they
were the Christians' gallies, where very temperately they eat bread
and drunk water, as a wholesome penance,  enjoined them by their
confessors for base pilferies.'
Shakspere, as we have already explained, got a 'pill' in 'The Poetaster,'
whereupon 'our fellow Shakespeare,' as is maintained in the 'Return from
Parnassus,' 'has given him' (Jonson) 'a purge that made him bewray his
credit' Now Ben, clearly enough, calls this answer of the great
adversary--a 'finely wrapt-up antimony,' whereby minds 'stopped with
earthy oppilations,' are purged into another world.
Volpone says:--'These turdy-facy, nasty-paty, lousy-fartical rogues,
with one poor groat's worth of unprepared antimony, finely wrapt up in
several scartoccios (covers),  are able, very well, to kill their
twenty a week, and play; yet these meagre, starved spirits, who have
stopt the organs of their minds with earthy oppilations, want not their
favourers among your shrivelled sallad-eating artizans,  who are
overjoyed that they may have their half-pe'rth of physic; though it
purge them into another world, it makes no matter.'
Jonson then continues his satire against 'Hamlet' by making Volpone,
disguised as a mountebank, sell medicine which is to render that 'purge'
('Hamlet') perfectly innocuous. He calls his medicine 'Oglio del Scoto:'
 good for strengthening the nerves; a sovereign remedy against all
kinds of illnesses; and, 'it stops a dysenteria, immediately.'
Nano praises its miraculous effects in a song:--
Had old Hippocrates, or Galen,
That to their books put med'cines all in,
But known this secret, they had never
(Of which they will be guilty ever)
Been murderers of so much paper,
Or wasted many a hurtless taper;
No Indian drug had e'er been famed,
Tobacco, sassafras not named;
Ne yet of guacum one small stick, sir,
Nor Raymund Lully's great elixir.
Ne had been known the _Danish Gonswart_,
Or Paracelsus, with his long sword.
Is not HAMLET here as good as indicated by name?
The Danish Prince appears on the stage in his 'inky cloak.' No doubt,
Jonson picked up the word 'Gonswart' (_gansch-zwart_, in Flemish)
among his Flemish, Dutch, and other Nether-German comrades of war in
the Low Countries. Surely, the Danish Prince 'All-Black' is none else
but Hamlet clad in black.
In the same scene, the connection between Hamlet and Ophelia also is
satirically pulled to pieces. In 'Eastward Hoe' (1605), Jonson and
his party do the same in the most indecent and most despicable manner.
Nano, praising the sublime virtues of the 'Oglio del Scoto,' sings:--
Would you live free from all diseases?
Do the act your mistress pleases,
Yet fright all aches from your bones?
Here's a medicine for the nones. 
The scene of the action in 'Volpone' is laid in Venice. During the
whole scene above-mentioned, Sir Politick Would-Be and a youthful
gentleman-traveller are present Others have already pointed out that,
by the former, Shakspere is meant.  The traveller, Peregrine, is
a youth whom the jealous Lady Politick once declares to be 'a female
devil in a male outside,'--again an allusion to Shakspere's 'two
loves' which he himself describes in Sonnet 144.
The words, also, with which Hamlet (act iii. sc. 3) praises his friend
Horatio (the Shaksperian ideal of a Horace) are ridiculed by Jonson in
this scene. Sir Politick Would-Be says to Peregrine:--
Well, if I could but find one man, one man,
To mine own heart, whom I durst trust, I would--
When the stage is raised on the theatre for Volpone, who is disguised
as a quacksalver, Sir Politick wishes to enlighten Peregrine as to the
fellows that 'mount the bank.'  We need not explain that this is
directed against the 'so-called stage-poets' and players. It will
easily be perceived that the meaning of the subsequent conversation
is the same as in the Preface of 'Volpone,' where Jonson says that
'wis and noble persons 'ought to' take heed how they be too credulous,
or give leave to these invading interpreters to be over-familiar with
Sir Politick (describing the fellows, one of which is to mount the
They are the only knowing men of Europe!
Great general scholars, excellent physicians, 
Most admired statesmen, profest favourites,
And Cabinet counsellors to the greatest princes;
The only languaged men of all the world!
_Peregrine_. And I have heard, they are most lewd  impostors
Made all of terms and shreds, no less beliers
Of great men's favours, than their own vile med'cines...
In act iv. sc. 1, Sir Politick gives counsels to the young Peregrine,
which are a manifest satire upon Polonius' fatherly farewell speech to
Laertes; and here again, let it be observed, religious tendencies are
made the subject of persiflage.
_Sir Politick_. First, for your garb, it must
be grave and serious
Very reserved and locked; not tell a secret
On any terms, not to your father; scarce
A fable, but with caution; make sure choice
Both of your company and your discourse; beware
You never speak a truth--....
And then, for your religion, profess none,
But wonder at the diversity of all;
And, for your part, protest, were there no other
But simply the laws o' th' land, you could content you.
Nic Machiavel and Monsieur Bodin, both
Were of this mind.
In act iii. sc. 2, it is openly said that English authors namely, such
as understand Italian, have stolen from Pastor Fido 'almost as much as
from MONTAIGNIE' (Montaigne). In vain we have looked for traces of
Montaigne's Essays in other dramas that have come down to us from that
epoch. That Shakspere must have been conversant with the Italian tongue,
Charles Armitage Brown has tried to prove, and according to our opinion
he has done so successfully. 
The talkative Lady Politick wishes to offer some distraction to the
apparently sick Volpone. She recommends him an Italian book in these
All our English writers,
I mean such as are happy in the Italian,
Will deign to steal out of this author mainly;
Almost as much as from _Montagnie_: 
He has so modern and facile a vein,
Fitting the time, and catching the court-ear! 
When Sir Politick (act v. sc. 2) is to be arrested (he is suspected of
having got up a conspiracy, and betrayed the Republic of Venice to the
Turks), he asserts his innocence; and when his papers are to be examined,
Alas, Sir! I have none but notes
Drawn out of play-books--
And some essays. 
Mosca (act i-v. sc. 2), spurring on his counsel, says:--
Mercury sit upon your thundering tongue,
Or the _French Hercules_  and make your language
As conquering as his club, to beat along,
As with a tempest, flat, our adversaries.
Hamlet, when asked by the King how he 'calls the play, answers:--'_The
Mouse-trap_.' Mosca calls his own cunningness with which he thinks
he can overreach his master, the '_Fox-trap_.'
If our intention were not to restrict this treatise to desirable limits,
many more satirical passages might be pointed out in 'Volpone,' which are
manifestly directed against 'Hamlet' and Shakspere. Those who take a
deeper interest in the subject, will discover not a few passages of this
kind in 'Volpone.'
In 1605--we believe, a few months before 'Volpone' --'Eastward Hoe'
came out, a comedy written by Ben Jonson, Chapman, and Marston, in which,
as already stated, the connection between Hamlet and Ophelia is derided
in a low, burlesque manner.
Shakspere, in order to flagellate Montaigne's mean views about womankind,
puts into the mouth of Ophelia, when she has no longer the control of her
tongue, the hideous words:--'Come, my coach!' and 'Oh, how the wheel
become it!'  This is a satirical hit, rapidly indicated, but only
understood by those who had carefully read Montaigne's book. Ben Jonson,
Chapman, and Marston try to make capital out of these expressions,
by deriding and denouncing them to the crowd, in order to defame
Girtred (Gertrud, name of Hamlet's mother, the Queen,) is the figure
under which Ophelia is ridiculed in 'Eastward Hoe.'  The first is a
girl of loosest manners. Her ambition torments her to marry a nobleman,
in order to obtain a 'coach.' To her mother (Mrs. Touchstone) she
incessantly speaks words of most shameless indecency, which cannot be
repeated; more especially as regards her 'coach,' for which she asks
ever and anon. A lackey, called _Hamlet_, must procure it to her.
We will give some fragments of that scene. The remainder cannot be offered
to a modern circle of general readers.
_Enter_ Hamlet, _a Foote-man, in haste_.
_Hamlet_. What coachman--my ladye's coach! for shame!
Her ladiship's readie to come down.
_Enter_ Potkinne, _a Tankard-bearer_.
_Potkinne_. 'Sfoote! Hamlet, are you madde? Whither run
you nowe? You should brushe up my olde mistresse!
Thereupon neighbours come together, all impelled by the greatest
curiosity 'to see her take coach,' and wishing to congratulate her.
_Gertrud_. Thank you, good people! My coach for the love of
Heaven, my coach! In good truth, I shall swoune else.
_Hamlet_. Coach, coach, my ladye's coach! [_Exit_ Hamlet.
After a little conversation between mother and daughter, which we must
leave out, Hamlet enters again:
_Hamlet_. Your coach is coming, madam.
_Gertrud_. That's well said. Now Heaven! methinks I am eene up
to the knees in preferment....
But a little higher, but a little higher, but a little higher!
There, there, there lyes Cupid's fire!
_Mrs. Touchstone_. But must this young man (Hamlet), an't
please you, madam, run by your coach all the way a foote?
_Gertrud_. I by my faith, I warrant him; hee gives no other
milke, as I have another servant does.
_Mrs. Touchstone_. Ahlas! 'tis eene pittie meethinks; for God's
sake, madam, buy him but a hobbie horse; let the poore youth have
something betwixt his legges to ease 'hem. Alas! we must doe as we
would be done too.
That is all we dare to quote from this comedy; but it quite suffices
to characterise the meanness of the warfare which Jonson's clique
carried on against Shakspere.
However, the lofty ideas contained in 'Hamlet' could not be lowered by
such an attack; they became the common property of the best and noblest.
Those ideas were of too high a range, too abstract in their nature, to
be easily made a sport of before the multitude. A few pleasantries,
used by Shakespeare in a moment of easy-going style, were laid hold
of maliciously, and caricatured most indecently, by his antagonists,
in order to entertain the common crowd there with. Innocent children,
moreover, were made to act such satires: 'little eyases, that cry
out on the top of the question, and are most tyrannically clapped
for't: these are now the fashion, and so berattle the common stages.'
Not less than in 'Volpone,' the tendency of 'Hamlet' as regards religious
questions is, in the most evident manner, ridiculed in John Marston's
'Malcontent.' Although this satire (so the play is called in the
preface 'To the Reader') appeared before 'Volpone,' we yet thought
it more useful first to speak of Jonson's comedy being the work of
Shakspere's most formidable adversary.
'The Malcontent' was printed in 1604; and soon afterwards (in the same
year) a second edition appeared, augmented by the author, as well as
enriched by a few additions from the pen of John Webster.  The
play is preceded by a Latin Dedication to Ben Jonson, which sufficiently
shows that a close friendship must have existed, at that time, between
the two.  The satire is replete with phrases taken from 'Hamlet'
for the purpose of mockery; and they are introduced in the loosest,
most disconnected manner, thus doubly showing the intention
and purpose. Marston's style is pointedly described in 'The Return
from Parnassus;' and we do not hesitate to say that the following
criticism was written in consequence of his 'Malcontent:'--
Methinks he is a ruffian in his style,
Withouten bands or garters' ornament:
He quaffs a cup of Frenchman's  Helicon,
Then roister doister in his oily terms,
Cuts, thrusts, and foins at whomsoever he meets...
Tut, what cares he for modest close-couch'd terms,
Cleanly to gird our looser libertines?...
Ay, there is one, that backs a paper steed,
And manageth a penknife gallantly,
Strikes his poinardo at a button's breadth,
Brings the great battering-ram of terms to towns;
And, at first volley of his cannon-shot,
Batters the walls of the old fusty world.
Who else can be indicated by the 'One' but Shakspere? To Marston's
hollow creations, which drag the loftiest ideas through the mire to
amuse the vulgar, the sublime and serious discourses of Shakspere are
opposed, which are destined to afford profoundest instruction. Is not
the whole tendency of 'Hamlet' described in the last two lines just
quoted, in which it is stated that under this poet's attack the
walls of the _old fusty world_ are battered down? 
The chief character in 'The Malcontent' is a Duke of Genoa. Marston,
in his preface 'To the Reader,' lays stress on the fact of this Duke
being, not an historical personage, but a creation of fiction, so 'that
even strangers, in whose State I laid my scene, should not from
thence draw any disgrace to any, dead or living.' After having
complained that, in spite of this endeavour of his, there are some
who have been 'most unadvisedly over-cunning in misinterpreting' him,
and, 'with subtletie, have maliciously spread ill rumours,' he goes
on declaring that he desires 'to satisfie every firme spirit, who in
all his actions proposeth to himself no more ends then God and vertue
do, whose intentions are alwaies simple.' Those only he means to
combat 'whose unquiet studies labor innovation, contempt of holy
policie, reverent comely superioritie and establisht unity.' He fears
not for the rest of his 'supposed tartnesse; but unto every worthy
minde it will be approved so generall and honest as may modestly passe
with the freedome of a satyre.'
That this satire could only be directed against 'Hamlet,' every one
will be convinced who spends a short hour in reading Marston's
'Malcontent.' Here, too, we must confine ourselves to pointing out
only the most important allusions; especially such as refer to
religion. Indeed, we would have to copy the whole play, in order
to make it fully clear how much Marston, with his undoubted talent
for travesty, has succeeded in grotesquely deriding the lofty,
noble tone of Shakspere's drama.
The chief character in 'The Malcontent' is Malevole, the Duke of
Genoa before-mentioned, who has been wrongfully deprived of the
crown. With subtle dissimulation, disguised and unknown, he
hangs about the Court. Against the ladies especially, whom he
all holds to be adulteresses, he entertains the greatest mistrust.
He watches every one; but most closely women. He is the image of
mental distemper; and Pietro, the ruling Duke, describes him in
act i. sc. 2 by saying that 'the elements struggle within him; his
own soule is at variance within her selfe;' he is 'more discontent
than Lucifer.' In short, he confers upon him all the qualities
of a 'Hamlet' character.
Whenever religious questions are addressed to Malevole, we have to
look upon him as the very type of Shakspere himself, whom Marston
takes to task for his spirit of 'innovation' and his 'contempt of
holy policie and establisht unity.' Shakspere, it ought to be
remembered, had scourged Ben Jonson under the figure of Malvolio.
Marston, who dedicates 'The Malcontent' to Jonson, no doubt wished
to please Jonson by calling the chief character, which represents
The play opens with an abominable charivari. ('The vilest out-of-time
musicke being heard.') This is partly a hit against the Globe Theatre
where--as we see from Shakspere's dramas--music was often introduced
in a play; partly it is to indicate the disharmony of Malevole's
Only a few travesties may be mentioned here, before we quote the
treatment of religious questions.
In act i. sc. 7 (here the scene is ridiculed in which Hamlet, with
drawn sword, stands behind the King), Pietro enters, 'his sword drawne.'
_Pietro_. A mischiefe fill thy throate, thou fowle-jaw'd slave!
Say thy praiers!
_Mendozo_. I ha forgot um.
_Pietro_. Thou shall die.
_Mendozo_. So shall Ihou. I am heart-mad.
_Pietro_. I am horne-mad.
_Mendozo_. Extreme mad.
_Pietro. Monstrously mad.
_Pietro_. Why? thou, thou hast dishonoured my bed.
Hamlet's words: --'O, most wicked speed, to post with such dexterity
to incestuous sheets!' are so often ridiculed because Shakspere, instead
of the word 'bed,' uses the more unusual 'sheets.'
Aurelia  speaks of 'chaste sheets,' Malevole  prophesies that
'the Dutches (Duke, Doge) sheets will smoke for't ere it be long.'
Mendozo  'hates all women, waxe-lightes, antique bed-postes,' &c.;
'also sweete sheetes.' Aurelia, parodying the words Hamlet addresses
to his mother, asks herself: 'O, judgement, where have been my eyes?
What bewitched election made me dote on thee? what sorcery made me love
The counsel which Hamlet gives to his mother 'to throw away the worser
part of her cleft heart,' Pietro ridicules in act i. sc. 7:--
My bosome and my heart,
When nothing helps, cut off the rotten part.
The splendid speech of Hamlet: 'What a piece of work is man!' sounds
from Mendozo's  lips thus:--'In body how delicate; in soule how
wittie; in discourse how pregnant; in life how warie; in favours how
juditious; in day how sociable; in night how!--O pleasure unutterable!'
Hamlet's little monologue:  'Tis now the very witching time of night,'
runs thus with Mendozo:--
'Tis now about the immodest waste of night;
The mother of moist dew with pallide light
Spreads gloomie shades about the mummed earth.
Sleepe, sleepe, whilst we contrive our mischiefes birth.
Then, parodying Hamlet as he draws forth the dead Polonius from behind
the arras, Mendozo says:--
This man Ile (I'll) get inhumde.
Thus, all kinds of Shaksperian incidents and locutions are brought
forward, wherever they are apt to produce the most comic effect. Several
times, from the beginning, the 'weasel' is mentioned with which Hamlet
rallies Polonius. We also hear of the 'sponge which sucks'--a simile
used by Hamlet (act iv. sc. 3) in regard to Rosencrantz. Nor is the
'true-penny' forgotten--a word used by Hamlet  to designate his
father's ghost as a true and genuine one; nor the 'Hillo, ho, ho.'
In all these allusions, of which an attentive reader might easily find
scores, there is no systematic order of thoughts. Only in the religious
questions we meet with a clear system: they are all addressed to Malevole,
who is represented as a kind of freethinker, similar to the one whom
Marston, in his preface, wishes to be outlawed, and of whom he says
that he fully merits the 'tartness' and freedom of his satire. In the
very beginning of 'The Malcontent,' Pietro asks Malevole:
I wonder what religion thou art of?
_Malevole_. Of a souldiers religion. 
_Pietro_. And what doost thinke makes most infidells now?
_Malevole_. Sects. Sects! I have seene seeming Pietie change
her roabe so oft, that sure none but some arch-divell can shape her
_Pietro_. O! a religious pllicie.
_Malevole_. But damnation on a politique religion!
In act ii. sc. 5 we find the following:--
_Malevole_. I meane turne pure Rochelchurchman. 
_Mendozo_. Thou Churchman! Why? Why?
_Malevole_. Because He live lazily, raile upon authoritie,
deny Kings supremacy in things indifferent, and be a pope in mine owne
_Mendozo_. Wherefore doost thou thinke churches were made?
_Malevole_. To scowre plow-shares. I have seene oxen plow
uppe altares: _Et nunc seges ubi Sion fuit_.
Then there is again what appears to be an allusion to Hamlet, act i.
sc. 4, resembling that in 'Volpone':--
I have seen the stoned coffins of long-flead Christians burst up
and made hogs troughs.
In act iv. sc. 4, Mendozo says to Malevole, whom he wishes to use for
the murder of a hermit:--
Yea, provident. Beware an hypocrite!
A Church-man once corrupted, Oh avoide!
A fellow that makes religion his stawking horse.
He breeds a plague. Thou shalt poison him.
From the many hints in 'Volpone' and in 'The Malcontent,' it clearly
follows that Shakspere was to be represented, in those dramas, before
the public at large, as an Atheist.  According to Jonson, he
counted 'ALL OLD DOCTRINE HERESIE.' According to Marston, he
had an aversion for all sects, and 'CONTEMPT OF HOLY POLICIE,
REVERENT COMELY SUPERIORITIE, AND ESTABLISHT UNITIE.' We hope we
have convinced our readers that Shakspere spoke in matters of religion
as clearly as his 'tongue-tied muse'  permitted him to do. Above
all, we think of having successfully proved that the controversy
of 'Hamlet' is directed against doctrines which assert that there is
nothing but evil in human nature.
Shakspere's prophetic glance saw the pernicious character of Montaigne's
inconsistent thoughts, which, unable to place us in sound relation to the
Universe, only succeed in making men pass their lives in subtle
reflection and unmanly, sentimental inaction. Shakspere, intending to
avert the blighting influence of such a philosophy from the best and
foremost of his country, wrote his 'Hamlet.' As a truly heaven-born
poet he bound for ever, by Thought's enduring chain,
All that flows unfixed and undefined
In glimmering phantasy before the mind.
In spite of the powerful impression his master-work, 'Hamlet,' has made
upon all thinking minds, the deepest and most serious meaning of
Shakspere's warning words could not have been fathomed by the many.
The parables through which a Prophet spoke were cast into the form of a
theatrical play, not easy to understand for the mass of men; for
'tongue-tied' was his Muse by earthly powers. And Shakspere deeply felt
the disgrace of being compelled to give forth his utterances in so
dubious a manner.
His Sonnets  express the feeling that weighed upon him on this account.
Had he not 'gor'd his own thoughts,' revealed his innermost soul? Yet,
now, his narrow-minded fellow-dramatists--but no! not fellow-dramatists:
mere contemporary playwrights, immeasurably far behind him in rank--eaten
up, as they were, with envy and jealous malice, meanly derided everything
sacred to him; holding up his ideals to ridicule before a jeering
crowd. It has long ago been surmised that Sonnet lxvi. belongs to the
'Hamlet' period. But now it will be better understood why that sonnet
speaks of 'a maiden virtue rudely strumpeted;  of 'right perfection
wrongfully disgrac'd, and strength by limping sway disabled;' of 'simple
truth miscall'd simplicity.'
These are the full words of this mighty sigh of despair:--
Tir'd with all these, for restful death I cry--
As, to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm'd in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplac'd,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgrac'd,
And strength by limping sway disabled,
And art made tongue-ty'd by authority,
And folly (doctor-like) controlling skill,
And simple truth miscall'd simplicity,
And captive Good attending captain ill:
Tir'd with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.
'Purest faith unhappily forsworn' was Shakspere's faith in God--without
any 'holy policie' and without 'old doctrines'--trusting above all in
the majesty of ennobled human nature. He was a veritable Humanist,
the truest and greatest, who ever strove to raise the most essential
part of human nature, man's soul and mind, yet by no mean supernatural,
but by 'mean that Nature makes.'
Shakspere's 'Hamlet' appears to us like a solemn admonition to his
distinguished friends. He showed them, under the guise of that Prince,
a nobleman without fixed ideal--'virtues which do not go forth' to
assert themselves, and to do good for the sake of others--noble life
wasted, letting the world remain 'out of joint' without determined will
to set it right: this was the poet's prophetic warning.
One aspiration of Shakspere clearly shines through his career, in
whatever darkness it may otherwise be enveloped--namely, his longing to
acquire land near the town he was born in. When he had realised this
ambition, he cheerfully seems to have left the splendour of town life,
and to have readily renounced all literary fame; for he did not even care
to collect his own works.
He was contented to cultivate his native soil: a giant Antaeus who, as
the myth tells us, ever had to touch Mother Earth to regain his strength.
1: _Volpone_ is stated to have been first acted in the Globe Theatre
in 1605. It is simply impossible that this drama, in its present shape,
should have been given in that theatre as long as Shakspere
was actively connected with it. We therefore must assume that
Shakspere--as Delius holds it to be probable--had at that time
already withdrawn to Stratford, or that the biting allusions which
are contained in _Volpone_ against the great Master, had been added
between 1605 (the year of its first performance) and 1607 (the year
of its appearance in print). We consider the latter opinion the
likelier one, as we suspect, from allusions in _Epicoene_,
that Shakspere, when this play was published, still resided in
London. However, it is also probable that in 1605 he may for a
while have withdrawn from the stage.
2: In this enumeration, Jonson seems to have the various Qualities of the
Essays in view which Florio calls 'Morall, Politike, and Millitarie.'
3: Against Montaigne, '_the teacher of things divine no less than
human_,' Shakspere's whole argumentation in 'Hamlet' is directed.
4: Here we have the noble Knight of the Order of St. Michael, as well
as the courtier and Mayor of Bordeaux.
5: Montaigne was Knight of the Order of St. Michael, and
Chamberlain of Henry III. He was on terms of friendship with
Henry IV. Both Kings he had as guests in his own house. In his
_Essai de Vanitie_, Montaigne also relates with great pride
and satisfaction, that during his sojourn at Rome he was made a
burgess of that city, 'the most noble that ever was, or ever shall
6: In spite of Gifford's protest we do not hesitate to maintain
that Jonson's Epigram LVI. (_On Poet-Ape_) is directed against
Shakspere, and that the poet whom Jonson--in the Epistle XII.
(_Forest_) to Elizabeth, Countess of Rutland--abuses, is
also none else than Shakspere.
7: Montaigne died in 1592.
8: We can only quote the most striking points, and must leave it to
the reader who takes a deeper interest in the subject, to give his
own closer attention to the dramas concerning the controversy.
9: _Gentlemen of Verona_; _Comedy of Errors_; _Love's Labour Lost_;
_Love's Labour Won_ (probably _All's Well that Ends Well_); _Midsummer
Night's Dream_; _Merchant of Venice_. Of Tragedies: _Richard the
Second_; _Richard the Third_; _Henry the Fourth_; _King John_; _Titus
Andronicus_; _Romeo and Juliet_.
10: As the words that follow seem to contain an allusion to
Shakspere's _Hamlet_, it is to be supposed that by the
'melting heir' Jonson points to some protector of the great poet.
Whether this be William Herbert, or the Earl of Southampton, we
must leave undecided.
11: Act i. sc. 4.
12: Jonson probably calls Shakspere an hermaphrodite because,
having a wife, he cultivated an intimate friendship at the same time
with William Herbert, the later Earl of Pembroke. Jonson's _Epicoene,
or The Silent Woman_ (1609) satirises this connection. We are
not the first in making this assertion. (See _Sonnets of Shakspere
Solved_, by Henry Brown: London, 1876, p. 16.)
In Epicoene a College is described, which is stated to be
composed of women. Instead of women, we may boldly assume men to
be meant. Truewitt thus describes the new Society:--